The Rapture- if you’re reading this, you missed it..!

Whoops !

rapture

It really is easier to read a novel- or a series of novels – about the Rapture, than it is to read a critical history of Rapture theology. Just as it is easier to “believe” in Creationism than it is to study and understand Evolution. Just as it is easier to maintain a fatalistic view of every single thing that happens (“God did it!”) than it is to face the random nature of many (most?) human and physical events, or to accept an iota of personal responsibility when things go wrong. 

Faith has become a short cut around thinking. The words “I believe” have come to mean that whatever pronouncement follows those words is off-limits in terms of criticism. (Although you are allowed, encouraged even, to verbally punctuate such statements with a hearty “Amen!”)

But is being faithful, toward anything, a legitimate excuse for not thinking? Is thinking about faith a forbidden activity? Personally, I don’t think so. I don’t like dead ends in thought, where questions are no longer welcomed, because then the only thing left to do is to build a fort and be defensive about that arrived-at place of thinking.  And that’s also where Inquisitions and Jihads are conceived.

The theology of the rapture is relatively recent, beginning in the early 19th Century. It was an odd interpretation of scripture which found wide acceptance in the reactionary intellectual atmosphere of the time. Times were, in 19th century Great Britain (where the rapture story began), a’changing. Pastoral countrysides were seeing, with greater and greater frequency, the smokestacks of nearby cities rising in ugly industrial salute to the Coal and Iron being burned and formed in a revolution of manufacturing. Urban areas were growing, along with the attendant urban problems of bad housing, crime, and alcoholism. The rich grew richer as the poor grew poorer. As Charles Dickens wrote of what was happening, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Some people were feeling left out, and powerless, and in need of a “way out.”

And the Rapture is the ultimate Way Out! Every year for the past two centuries someone, somewhere has claimed that this is the year:  This is the year that the Lord returns for his own!  It’s an appealing hope for many people: it costs nothing, it could happen any moment, and it makes those who know they’re ‘going’ better than those who don’t know they’re not going!

The popularity of the Rapture grows wherever people feel out of control. It gives people who believe they will not be left behind, a sense of power- perhaps even, a sense of superiority, over those who will not make the cut. As the doctrine’s popularity has grown, it has become more complex. Schools of thinking have grown about when the rapture will occur in relation to perceived timetables they are able to find in the books of Daniel and Revelation.  On-line resources are available for wills to be read and messages to be sent to relatives and friends who are left here after the rapture to face the horrors of Armageddon, or not.

When Jesus said, on the cross, “It is finished,” little did he know that 1800 years later the rest of the story would be uncovered. Nor did he know it would all be over in 1992, or not.

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Inauguration Day..

“Write in recollection and amazement for yourself.” Jack Kerouac

I’ve started to write an Inauguration Day statement many times in the last two days. As it is with writing sermons, though, I can no longer think in straight lines. I can no longer understand anything in cause and effect formulas; there are too many unexpected appearances by ideas in flight, information in juxtaposition, and concrete conclusions built, in the end, of sand.

I am overloaded on images, as we all are. The tears of old black men and young white women are now indistinguishable within the headwaters of the mighty stream of righteousness. The edges of our individuality have blurred- a little, a lot. The human differences we have historically institutionalized at times, and even celebrated, fought over, and died because of, have begun (begun, yes, but- hallelujah!- begun) to fade- a little, a lot, and here and there even: altogether (my God, hallelujah! they have!).

President Obama’s first executive action as president was to set in motion the disassembly of the Guantanamo prisoner facilities. That there are significant numbers of Americans who believe that this was a wrong first action- who believe that some rights should be denied and that some torture should be allowed, indicates the depth and infections of the wounds we have suffered as a country. Even more important, far more important than economic recovery, will be the recovery of our shared decency. As the President signed those orders, a light began to shine. It’s Our Light and it is overcoming (because it must) the shadows which have grown inch by dark inch behind us in our time of politically encouraged fear and intentionally coerced separation from the world.
**

I think of the million little boys who can look over the heads of Kobe and LeBron and see Barack.

I thank God for the million little girls who are able now to look past Beyonce and Brandy and see Michelle.
**

A praise song for the day. I can’t stop smiling and neither can you and those smiles are on our hearts in ways some of us didn’t know they could be and in ways others of us had forgotten.

I’m sure there is someone who didn’t like Aretha’s hat, but I loved it because Aretha was singing about this day in 1967- “Respect”- before she knew this day would be, and before the King had been to the mountaintop and before all that goddam gunfire and before the dreams some of us dreamed had been scraped from our hearts and before the Twin Towers were built and before Watergate, Katrina, and Lewinsky and that hat, on her, this day, on this stage of stages in front of this crowd of crowds, just before a man stands up and says “I, Barack Hussein Obama…”

R, E, S, P, E, C, T……………
**

(Like I said, there is nothing linear possible for me here- I can only do this in recollection and amazement.) But there is one more thing:

Jess is 87, a neighbor here in this little red town in this big red state where I live. Jess told me yesterday about an episode in 1944 when he was in the service. A black soldier- a cook- had been assigned to the unit Jess was a part of at the base in NY to which he’d been assigned. After training, the unit was sent to Virginia, in preparation for their assignments in Europe.

Just outside of Washington, D.C., part of the unit stopped for lunch at a local diner where- of course- the owner of the diner insisted that if the “n—–“ was going to eat, then he’d have to eat in the kitchen. Jess said that it was pointed out by the NY members of the unit that the man was a soldier! But the Southern soldiers, like Jess, knew how these laws worked and so they told their black friend to go ahead and go to the kitchen. So he did.

He did, and they followed him. Along with their Commanding Officer, the soldiers, white and black, Northern and Southern, lined the kitchen and ordered their food. And were served.

Jess was telling me this and he said he’d never forgotten that day, that meal, that soldier. His eyes were telling me – 64 years later- that they had, together, done something right and good that day, and they knew it.

And, I think (hell, I know), that day was a part of this day, too.

Maybe the best reason yet for being happy that Obama was elected..!

On the day before Thanksgiving, Barack Obama and his family helped serve meals to Chicago’s homeless at a Southside Catholic Church. After about an hour, Obama left the food line to go to an elementary school associated with the Church. This AP photo captures the reactions of those kids who had only been told there was a “special guest” arriving.

Wow!

Look at every single face. Each face is the verse of an epic poem. Each expression is a note in a symphony. Here are a hundred eyes full of excitement and joy, and..(though these kids don’t know it yet their parents and grandparents do)..hope. This is the kind of Hope that straightens paths, brightens colors, and builds bridges to possibilities. It is the kind of Hope that I feel so grateful to have been able to witness, and even feel in my own heart.

But, just look at these kids! Whatever I might feel is peanuts compared to the smiles, laughter, and amazement of these young ones. These kids are having their futures redefined- right now- in ways we could not have  imagined that happening just three years ago.  None of us know the full extent of the redefinitions or the long-term ramifications of the cultural reformation that has just taken place. But we do see those smiles, and those smiles tell me that whatever is coming next has got to be good.

Obama-Thanksgiving-19

It has got to be.

It just has to be.

The Problem, Whatever It Is..

It really is true, but I needed to elaborate on it- for myself. Feel free to read over my shoulder. Tell yourself, as often as is necessary, whatever this, at the moment, is:

This, too, shall pass..

And indeed it shall:

~from the immediate corners of consciousness where- now- it jostles jaggedly, by the moment, by the half-moment, seeking a position but finding only juxtaposition.

~from the aching, angry forefront of lobotomical lamentations and synaptical sorrows.

~from the emotional heat which causes embers thought to be cold to flare again in the white and searing heat of memory, and memory of memory.

This, too, shall pass..

And indeed it shall:

~as unexpected crises are confronted, and what is imperative right now becomes an afterthought to what the newest right now is clamoring.

~as the sharp and focused particulars- each letter, each syllable, each raised eyebrow- of these moments in time become the faded pastel memories of yesterday, last month, and several years ago (no one remembers exactly when..)

~as the persons involved are ripped, or fade, from our stories, and as their circumstances, as their reactivity and proactivity waxes, and wains, and is washed away by new calendar pages, new ticking-tocking of the world’s clocks, and new birthdays, seasons, before there are..no more.

This, too, shall pass..

And indeed it shall:

~when, over a millennium, not too many millennia away, glacial sheets like geographical snow plows push down and across whole continents and Stockholm, then London, then Madrid; and Montreal, then New York, then Washington are scrapped from their rebar and concrete moorings before the great cliffs of ice.

~ when the shards of the Museum of Modern Art, Lincoln Center, the Library of Congress, Parliament, Windsor Castle, and the Louvre are piled deeply beneath the former shores and sand of the one-time Great Lakes, the no-longer-there North Sea, and the gravel that once laid at the bottom of the English Channel.

~when that ice, in epochal time, begins to melt and frozen swamps give rise to the bacterial surge of New Life, and the hundred thousand year movement toward new geological eras begins, and where new ice will again appear and new swamps, new mountain ranges, new continents, new volcanic islands, new life forms- slimes and swarms- birthing and dying, become themselves 100 million year old fossils, never to be found, catalogued, or contemplated.

~ when the Sun, explosively benign and vital through all that has been, begins its final interior burn and expands as the last stores of helium flare through ten billion years of pressure and the Sun, larger and larger, encompasses one by one the orbits of its planets, and the blue and green of Earth becomes a desert, then a smoldering coal, then a hot ember, then an ash, then smoke, then nothing but the chaotic then coalescing atoms which, in this tiny portion of the Universe, will begin again to end and begin again and again, and then- indeed-

This, too, shall have passed..

Was Blind, But Now I See: Hope

I have no hope; I have no fear. I am free.” (Nikos Kazantzakis)

“Frankly, I don’t have much hope. But I think that’s a good thing. Hope is what keeps us chained to the system, the conglomerate of people and ideas and ideals that is causing the destruction of the Earth.” (Derrick Johnson, Orion Magazine, May/June 2006)

I throw the word hope around quite easily and very often. Most preachers do:

“My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.”
(Old hymn)

“To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27)

I have used the word and concept of hope most often as an antidote for some set of uncomfortable, unsettling, even fearful circumstances which exist in the present moment. Implicit in hope (as I have most often used it) is the looked-forward-to future absence of those difficult feelings being experienced right now.

I am wondering, though, if I have not merely been grabbing at the whole concept of hope in the same way I used to grab at a glassful of Jim Beam? Is it simply one more way to get outside of the present moment, and to justify inaction? Does pie-in-the-sky hope cause me and others to sit around and wait for future bliss while the muck and mire of the moment is rising over our shoes, our ankles, our knees ?!

Hope is an attempt to counterbalance Fear. We can control Fear by constructing an imagined scenario of No Fear. Or so it seems. To Not Be Afraid is a primary motivator used by advertisers, preachers, and politicians. They know their audience is afraid of not being pretty enough, of not going to heaven, or of being blown to bits in another 9/11 scenario. So they offer Hope: a new shade of Max Factor lipstick, a walk down the aisle for the absolution of sins, or a “Happy Days are Here Again” ballot choice.

And we, wanting desperately to escape the dread which weighs heavily on our shoulders, believe them. Again. And again. And again, again. We have believed them for so long, that it feels natural- human, we think- to hope for a better tomorrow. We shovel out money- usually, borrowed money- in the hope that a new car, a new entertainment center,  or a shiny new piece of bling-bling on our arm will finally, despite the $125,738 unsuccessfully spent on similar doo-dads in the past, make us happy.

We pray for miracles- supernatural interventions by God, Allah, or the personal guardian angels that over 50% of Americans believe are standing nearby in anxious desire to serve them- to alleviate the anxieties of today.  It’s sooo much easier to tell God what to do, than it is to ask “What can I do?” And, where two or more are gathered, it sounds a lot holier , too.

And, politicians? 9/11 and stories about inadequate health care are mantras for them. They know we fear violence and sickness because we are afraid, above all, of Death (another soon-topic in this series),  and so they work hard at keeping those fears in the forefronts of our present thinking, so that we may hope for an end to them by properly voting.

Hope, too often, nullifies, debases, and puts off Action or Acceptance. We are blinded to our own abilities to actively affect the difficult circumstances we can do something about, and to Accept those circumstances over which we have no control. To help a 16 year accept themselves as the unique person he or she already is, it seems to me, a far greater act than helping him buy steroids, or signing the permission papers for her to get a boob job. To visit a lonely invalid or prisoner is a much more satisfying way to follow Jesus (or Allah, or one of those angels) than waiting in miserable self-absorption for glory, yes? And certainly, get out and vote, but stop hoping that Big Brother (or Sister) will make our days happy ones. Only we can do that. And if we can’t do it for ourselves, helping others do it for themselves is an even more fulfilling, satisfying, and- dare I say?- happy substitute.

I cannot make myself say that Hope is bad thing. It’s nice to believe the sun will shine tomorrow. But, more often than not, we must simply open our eyes and see that the Light is, and has been, there anyway!  If we look for it, instead of hoping for it, we can experience Light flowing in on us from all kinds of cracks in formerly dark corners. And then we might even observe that while we had been waiting for pie in the sky, there was a big slice of chocolate cake, with ice cream melting beside it, in front of us, waiting to be eaten.